To the trees!!!


Random thought – Do you remember the movie “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”? Somehow I remember a line in that movie when there was about to be a battle and the guys yelled “TO THE TREES!” That line came to my mind today on a little adventure I went on today.

Today, I went to the trees to find the timber we will need for our roofing structure. Although we are not ready to put the roof on this week or even next week, as I have described in Sourcing Materials, I cant just go to the local Home Depot or Lowes to pick up lumber we need to build the roof. In fact, for such a large amount, I have to place an order for the timber I need directly with the people who are cutting it.

Thankfully, we don’t need anywhere near as much timber as we would if we were building an all-wooden house like most of your’s in the USA. But unfortunately, it does require cutting some of this valuable resource to be able to build any kind of building.

Until now, most of our timber that we have been using has mainly been for creating formwork to pour concrete columns or slabs. This kind of wood is not extremely important to be perfectly straight because the fundis will just trim it as necessary with a panga (machete). So that kind of timber is cut with a chainsaw. Yes, you heard right, a chainsaw ONLY. The first cut down the tree with the saw and then they proceed to “mill” the lumber with the chainsaw! I was SO surprised the first time I saw this. I could not believe they were cutting 14+ feet of lumber with only a chainsaw. I thought “how in the world are they going to get this thing straight?” And you know, I was right. Some are better than others, but really all of them are very rough and mostly not straight. They don’t look anything like what we would find in our local home improvement store at home. My dad taught me a long time ago how to pick a good piece of lumber and always to make sure it’s straight with no warping, twisting, or crowning and only small knots. The ones I usually get from these chainsaw guys would NEVER pass dad’s test. We would have walked out of that store and gone across the street to another one. But since the timber needed until now was mostly only used for formwork, it wasn’t a big deal.

HOWEVER, this time, I need timber for roof trusses. This is now a permanent part of the building, and it MUST be perfect along with the rest of the house. And the roof trusses will be holding clay tiles. Since I have previously seen how the clay tiles are laid on the trusses, I knew this timber MUST be straight. So, I decided I needed to seek out someone who is using a legit tablesaw with the right breed of trees so that we could have some good straight cuts. So I went with our building foreman early this morning to go see some guys he knew that were cutting trees with a tablesaw. Little did I know the surprise I was in for.

We turned off the main paved road and down a bumpy muddy road (thankful for the rain we have been having). This in itself isn’t a big deal really, I go down roads like this every day. But everywhere else I have been getting timber previously has been a “lumber yard” right on the main road. As we went down the road for about 2 miles, we suddenly came to its end and I didn’t see any lumber lying around. “This is strange,” I thought, “where’s the timber? Where’s the big sawmill?” We parked the car and started hiking- downhill, WAY downhill. I estimate we hiked about 500 feet-not too far. But it had to be at LEAST 200ft change in elevation. It was steep! And muddy, very muddy and slippery!  I only slipped a couple times going down. My friend and our foreman, Jacob who is about half my size (height and weight), caught me one of the times. The other time, I just got nice and muddy. The only thing I really had to grab onto was a few slippery coffee tree branches, which weren’t very sturdy. And the “steps” were not nicely cut and formed steps like you might find on the Appalachian Trail. They were only a small indentation in the mud where someone had stepped before me. They looked inviting, but after a while I found it best to mark my own steps instead of slipping on the steps of my predecessor.

When we had gone more than 3/4 of the way down the hill through the shamba (garden/field), we came to a clearing, and I STILL had to go down. This time with not even a coffee plant to hold onto. And I look down and see THIS!

downhill

The view from “the top”

Can you tell what you’re looking at? Yes, its a small lumber yard. But do you think they have electricity all the way down there to run a tablesaw? No way, but do they need it? No, they have a TRACTOR! Are you kidding me?! This is AWESOME!

hookedup

All hooked up and ready to go

This thing is totally running off of the driveshaft of the tractor! Somehow they have it hooked up to the tablesaw with pulleys and the belts run from those pulleys to the gear that drives the sawblade. WOW! Just seeing it I was impressed and it wasn’t even running when I got there. I was simply impressed by the idea. It didn’t matter how the timber looked. This setup was truly amazing to me. Maybe some of you reading this have seen something like this on a farm in the US somewhere, but every tablesaw I have ever seen has a nice cord and a motor attached to it. But I know my dad’s tablesaw runs the blade with a belt over the motor so I could see that the physics of this juakali (backwoods/ghetto/redneck/outside worksite) setup could actually work. So I asked them if they could crank it up so I could see it run. They were happy to show it off for the mzungu (white guy).

It took 6 of them pull-starting it to get it running, but it cranked right up.

It took 6 of them pull-starting it to get it running, but it cranked right up.

laughing

They were laughing because I was so WOWed when they cranked it up

Then, they started cutting

cutting

That blade cut like a hot knife through butter, but unfortunately not very straight.

Stack of timber

Stack of timber

In one hand, it was a great sight to see. On the other hand it was disappointing. They were using a nice HUGE tablesaw to cut these trees, but because they did not have a big enough “fence” on the saw, the cuts were still not straight enough. And later today, I was told this may not be the best breed of tree to use for our roof. But the trip was not wasted. I got to go on a nice hike through the hills of Africa and I got to see something really cool-a tractor run tablesaw.

Then it was time to climb back up the hill. Going up was much less treacherous than going down.

Then it was time to climb back up the hill. Going up was much less treacherous than going down. And these pictures just don’t do it justice

On the way back up the hill, I noticed their sawdust-bedded campsite.

Camp Site

Camp Site

As I was finishing the climb back to the car, I was wondering, “How in the world did they get that tractor down the mountain?!” Then an even bigger question came to our conversation in the car on the way out, “How in the world are they going to get it OUT of there?” I’d love to see that!